Yes, Menswear Can Be Practical

Kinda. You just gotta make it so!

Like the other “show notes” before it, this essay contains my thoughts on the subject. If you want a more general discussion on the Practicality and Utility of Menswear, I suggest you listen to the podcast episode. The episode goes into broader ideas while this comes from more of a personal standpoint.

A lot of this blog (and podcast) are essays proving that classic & vintage menswear is an aesthetic, free from hardlined rules and able to be used as personal expression. And while that tends to be the main thing that converts a majority of the people I interact with to the world of tailoring, there is still that small idea that aesthetic clothing (like menswear) isn’t practical. And that’s patently false- at least sorta.

Now obviously I can’t make the argument that menswear is supremely utilitarian and practical. A tailored sportcoat isn’t going to be as practical (or as tactical) as nylon/gore-tex techwear garments nor are gurkha shorts able to be as moisture wicking or stretchy as Lululemon activewear. But that’s taking things to the extreme, because most of those things are places where specialized clothing is required (and most jobs that deal with those things have some sort of uniform). This is not that. If we’re just talking about going to your office job, relaxing, and living life, menswear is perfectly practical and can be utilitarian for that purpose. Or at least you can make it so!

I think its so weird that people refuse to believe that wearing menswear can’t be practical for regular life- that mindset only furthers the (bad) idea that anything that resembles a jacket or trouser is “formal” and is only reserved for special occasions. It’s even weirder when you realize that a lot of sportswear (casual clothing) and workwear shares a common root with (or can be derived from) tailoring.

Back when classic menswear was the rule all mode of dress, guys pieces of it everywhere. Men owned pleated flannels for their day job, while gabardines and chinos were for home and workwear respectively. Sportcoats for “fun” utilized action backs and patch pockets. No, I don’t mean the oft repeated stories of jacketing coming from “elegant” past times of hunting, but regular life. They fisted their pockets. They put books, newspapers, and their EDC in their menswear. The men in those times simply saw it as “clothing” and wore it as such.

It’s a relatively new idea that practicality/utility has been divorced from classic menswear. Perhaps the rise of true casualwear (by this I mean non-tailoring). More people were allowed to wear jeans, which meant that wool trousers had less of a need outside of business and formal occasions. I’m sure brands and designers followed, leading to where we are today, with laypeople confounded at the idea that you can live life practically in tailoring and variations thereof. in my experience, they either are obtuse or angry at that fact; I prefer dealing with the former.

In looking over all the blog posts, photographs, and sources of inspiration, it’s pretty clear that classic menswear is perfectly utilitarian and practical. I don’t think any of us would wear it if it wasn’t conducive to living life. Perhaps that’s what I should have emphasized in my essay on influencers– all of these people focus on brand reviews and seldom about their actual life. This is why I like to share real people wearing cool clothing plainly doing their thing, which I hope you’ve picked up on. It’s more than just being slouchy in your clothes, but rather having the confidence to do whatever you want in the clothes you’ve worn for the day. The slouch will be present, both in the attitude and as a byproduct of simply using clothing practically in everyday life. Whatever that means to you, of course.

Now this didn’t come instantly to me. If you look at Old Ethan, it still took a long time to get used to wearing my clothes practically. This wasn’t just about getting studier fabrics like gab or cotton or even about opting for a full cut. It was the fact that I still counted those pieces as special, almost like a costume. I was always a photographer, but I did my best to separate all that practicality from my contemporary and vintage clothing because I couldn’t fathom them working together. Behind all of those old pictures was a backpack full of my cameras, books, glasses, and keys. Yes, I know having a proper tote bag or messenger bag would have been the #menswear response, but it still took a mindset change to get comfortable and practical in a proper way.

To combat my frustration (because my EDC is quite a bit), I remember looking closely at all of my inspo sources. Both the guys in the 30s and my colleagues in NYC didn’t have giant backpacks or cars to lug around their shit. Instead, they made their clothing work for them, not just by pocket fisting to feel comfortable, but to actually use it. No wonder old Golden Era civillians/artists and the shop keepers at Drake’s/The Armoury/J. Mueser looked so good! It seemed that to be as slouchy as they were, you needed to have ownership and practicality over their clothing. No overt sense of ceremony for tailoring at all, which was something I was beginning to understand.

This mindset seems to come as an expanded view of pocket fisting. Most of the criticism against pocket fisting is that it’s an affectation, something that hipsters do as a part of #menswear (whatever that means). In my essay about pocket fisting, I write about just treating them like any other pocket. For example, I put my hands in my the handwarmers of my leather jackets or the patch pockets of my chore coats- why should tailoring be any different?

Like I said, tailoring has roots and commonalities with utilitarian use. Not all tailoring is smooth business wear. We have flannels to protect against the cold, tweeds to repel thorns, and linen to wick moisture. Details help, like ticket pockets or action backs. Apart from doing actual sports and swimming, you could do a lot with classic menswear. Taking them off their pedestal and actually treating them like you would a denim jacket or your favorite jeans (within reason) is something to seriously consider.

So yeah, it can start off small, by pocket fisting to hide those idle hands and to refrain from looking like a robot. Then you decide to continue, perhaps by putting your glasses case or phone charger in your suit jacket pocket (and sportcoats have a lot of pockets). Maybe you’ll begin propping your collar up to shield yourself from the wind when you forgot your jacket. It took a while, but I eventually learned that tailoring, with its wide lapels and plethora of pockets is actually quite practical; it’s not just a garment to be fancy in.

“Forced Versatility” is a concept that comes to my mind. This first started when I had a stream about shoes, where my guests and I talked about how some of us have to buy shoes that matched not only our aesthetic style but our actual lifestyle as well. For those who have to walk for blocks and brave the elements, a shell tassel loafer may not be the right fit. A blundstone boot or a canvas sneaker may be the right choice instead! This doesn’t mean that you have to dress like a skater or a gorp-core enthusiast right away, but it may affect how you approach classic menswear. Those things don’t really go with ultrafine worsted suits but they do lend themselves to work with straight leg jeans and chore coats.

This doesn’t mean that you have to give up tailoring and change up your whole style! After all, despite being a photographer who likes to walk around DTLA on occasion, I still like wearing sportcoats and high rise pleated wool trousers. This just means adapting that utilitarian mindset. In some cases, this simply does mean taking advantage of the pockets that your sportcoats have to offer. I often find that better than simply lugging a tote around. You’ll see me walking around with my wallet in one pocket, a water bottle in the other, and cameras around my neck! Sure, maybe a full utility vest would have been a “better choice”, but there are just days that I want to wear tailoring. Forced Versatility means that I can make my love of tailoring work for my life.

Perhaps that’s why my tailoring choices tend to be on the more rugged/casual side, at least compared to most others. Instead of super worsted wools, I prefer wearing cotton twill in suiting, since I know it can take a beating with my EDC as well as the fact that it will break in, getting softer and more comfortable each time (which obviously leads to me reaching for it more often). Patch pockets are my friends, since they allow for quick reach of my necessities. A wide cut is preferable since comfort is practical (to no one’s surprise).

If I have to wear wools, I tend to opt for hearty open weave wools, which allows for great airflow and yet can still be resistant to some elements; Ring Jacket Balloon and Crispaire have served me well for this purpose. Flannel trousers and tweed jackets are used in the fall/winter simply because they can last during my daily excursions of photographing, writing, and visiting boba shops. Tailoring really doesn’t always have to be fancy, especially since people’s concepts of formality tend to start and stop with lapels, rather than the fabrics. There is much more leeway than you think it is.

This brings Casual Ethan to mind, where thanks to my conscious choices in cloth and detailing, I’m able to approach a utilitarian (read: casual) nature to menswear, even without completely resorting to wearing jeans and chore coats. I mean even now, we’re starting to see “suits” made of matching chore coats and work pants! It seems the idea of “menswear” is becoming loose and much more utilitarian. That’s a good thing.

In fact, once you understand that tailoring is simply everyday clothing that happens to have lapels and pleats, it means that you are free to mix and match pieces from other roots as they see fit. Not only can garments be an aesthetic swap for each other (like a chore coat for a blazer), but a utilitarian one too. For example, I could want the aesthetic of wearing chinos with a navy blazer. However, if my day requires heavy walking (and ergo sweating and moving around), I may opt for my broken in WWII chinos instead of my “dress” khakis. Not only are they intentionally slouchier, but they’re more conducive for sitting around in a public bench. And it doesn’t stop at just taking fabric into account.

Once you break into that mindset, then nothing is really off limits! It’s not simply about utilizing the pockets of your tailoring, but by mixing in things when appropriate to your everyday life. Barbour jackets with tailoring are a great example, not only providing better protection from the rain than a wool coat, but they also feature big pockets; I always liked seeing guys at Pitti stuff their scarves in their Barbour pockets when they get a bit too warm. Photographers like Chase or Rob Spangle wear military jackets (like the jungle jacket) over their tailoring to hold lenses and other camera gear. Bucket hats can be donned to protect yourself from the rain or sun. Sneakers are worn with tailoring if walking is a big part of your commute. Utility/Puffer vests are perfect for carrying things and keeping your core warm. Shorts can replace linen trousers if its too hot. A sportshirt or workshirt can be a great alternative to a regular business shirt, especially when a tie isn’t needed; an OCBD is also pretty useful and can take a beating. The list can go on!

The idea that many of these garments are rather interchangeable (at least in our own view on style) adds to how practical menswear can be. I don’t need anything decidedly fancy or casual- I can just wear what I want. I hate saying it, but I don’t think I’m usually over or under dressed in any situation. Bold maybe, but not peacocking; I hope my slouch and decision on the minute details is what gives everything an easy-going attitude. After all, apart from a few niche things like tuxedos or the occasional fine worsted wool, my friends and I typically think of everything as just a jacket, shirt, and pant, each with a practical use and a special aesthetic connotation. Putting those together is inherent in our POV and yes, it goes against the “rules”, but that’s okay. I find my self inspired by the boundless combinations that can happen, even in this small subsection of men’s fashion.

The choice of garment (or alternative) to go with simply depends on what your lifestyle is. Personally, I prefer the ideas of tailoring more, which is why you see my outfits incorporate more sportcoats and ties than say, Spencer, who really has no need for it anymore. However, that doesn’t mean I wear suits all the time. I routinely wear tees, rayons, and sneakers when the weather or daily activities call for it. And yes, I still pay attention to modern inventions, such as tech fabrics to work out or modern woven cloths for warm weather tailoring. But honestly, I’ve been able to find ways to incorporate everything else, especially since I don’t want to own clothes that I seldom wear. Instead of wearing a tee shirt and gym shorts to the pool, I might wear a nice pair of navy swim trunks with a terry cloth shirt- still practical and yet still very menswear.

The trick is to make the choices as practical as possible. I’m sure many of you are wondering what the line is between slouchy style and an affectation; my #pocketfisting is constantly the source of many debates (one guy even called it hipster). After all, what’s the difference between a chunky non-fiction in your patch pocket and placing your gloves in your breast pocket? I’d argue that there isn’t much difference- both are quite practical uses of menswear. However, the idea is that you should make these choices as it applies to your lifestyle.

I’m sure many New Yorkers put their gloves in their pockets when they come inside from the rain or snow. Doing that move in LA, where gloves are seldom seen? That’s a bit too far. I also think that many of these choices can be rooted in a style affectation, but if it’s important to you enough (we try not to judge), forced versatility can make it a true part of your everyday life. Why else do you think I make it a big deal to share so much about my personal life on this blog/podcast/IG? I want to make sure you guys see that it’s out in the wild and not simply for a fitpic.

Like I said earlier, #pocketfisting was the start on this mindset. I’m definitely sure it started as an affectation modeled after Jake Grantham, but it’s certainly useful to me. I nervously twiddle my hands or scratch them occasionally, so putting my hands in my jackets made sense; trousers seemed odd (as I’m still quite self conscious of my thighs) and having them idle at my sides seemed too robotic. And thus, fisting my pockets became a thing, which lead to me actually using them for other things! Other practical and utilitarian moves came later, whether it was using my tailoring to hold my pieces or introducing “casual” garments that still had a purpose, like sneakers or bucket hats. And of course, the versatility of a menswear wardrobe works for this, allowing me to use my vintage sweatshirts both in ivy looks and at the gym.

Though to be fair, the tied sweater is almost completely aesthetically driven. However, you could argue that it’s still practical in that it allows you easy access to knitwear, without having to hold it in your hands or a bag! I’m probably grasping at straws, since I definitely like to do this every once in a while.

Anyway, I’m sure you guys have noticed this style “change” happening over the blog the past couple of years., though I’d argue its just maturity. A small part of it is due to changing aesthetic tastes (we are in our mid twenties after all), but an even bigger part is getting the confidence to slouch around in public and wear our garments in our daily life! This is also why we have gotten less hardliner on certain styles, because we have realized that many people do make these conscious choices to adapt the garments (or at least the ideas) of classic menswear to their daily life. Feeling natural in any menswear garment also helps when you’re trying to accomplish slouch (though don’t try too hard) or when you’re just hanging with your friends.

Obviously this is going to be hard to get behind if you are into menswear for the “formality” reasons, but that was never what we were concerned with (at least not presently). Despite liking tailoring, our lives do not require shiny worsted wools and overly elegant loafers. We still like the aesthetic, but we needed to make it fitting for us. I think that’s why most people don’t get an affected, formal vibe from us. It’s not that we routinely take efforts to dress down, but instead make efforts to live normal lives with our clothing, with a few steps to make it easy and natural.

As you can see, we’ve found plenty of ways to be normal guys and wear variations of classic/vintage menswear, which has naturally lead to our rugged, slightly irreverent take to style. This mode is full of so many subgenres that its really ripe to be picked and adjusted as we see appropriate. After all, we are seeing quite a combination of workwear and ivy as we most into the post-pandemic stage of menswear. I live in LA (and I’m again quite young compared to other suited professionals), so it’s definitely worthwhile for me to explore more rugged (read: casual) takes on classic menswear rather than straight up business suiting all the time. I love menswear, but not that much! It’s must still be practical.

I don’t think anyone expects you to do a full body work out or brave a blizzard in the same suit, but it’s just a game of figuring out what works for your lifestyle and adding in pieces as necessary. If you’re obsessed with having a minimal, fully utilitarian wardrobe, that’s on you. For my purposes, and with a few tweaks, classic menswear is just fine. Especially since it’s the mode of dress that I identify with the most! You guys would certainly know if it was just for appearances’ sake.

Altogether, I think that’s why we’re so adamant that you can wear what we wear as students or young professionals starting their careers, because that’s what we’re doing now. You’ll see us doing our thing wearing our own take on menswear, whether that is cotton suiting, pocket fisting a Balloon jacket, or the many times we wear jeans and military chinos with everything. So far, we’ve been appropriate and comfortable for just about every context our lives have thrown at us.The only way to prevent classic menswear from becoming a costume (in the negative connotation) is to not make it beholden to certain occasions. Just wear it and live in it!

So yes, menswear can be practical and utilitarian- it helps if you make it so!

Podcast Outline

  • 03:27 – Topic Start
  • 08:44 – Practicality/Utility Topic Origin
  • 09:42 – TV stereotypes/culture – 9:42 
  • 13:25 – Materials
  • 16:41 – Vintage/Details
  • 17:29 – Built To Last
  • 27:15 – Tailoring is Practical
  • 35:15 – What Makes Clothing Practical
  • 38:10 – Chore Coats
  • 41:33 – You Don’t Need Slim Fit
  • 44:18 – Terry Cloth
  • 45:52 – Appeal to Tailors
  • 46:49 – Techwear
  • 47:55 – Rayon Gab
  • 49:15 – Versatility
  • 55:29 – Our Favorites

Recommended Reading

We also did a stream with Jason and Matt that adds to the points made in the podcast and essay. We still wonder why people can’t seem to think about menswear practically! It can be done.

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Just wearing tailoring and hanging out!
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Sportcoat and cords, unconventional gear for a photographer.
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Wallet in pocket and my tote bag to carry everything else.
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A practical raincoat and scarf!
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This tweed sack jacket is treated like any outer layer, worn with a sweatshirt and jeans.
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Full cuts are comfortable, giving you freedom to slouch (and for activities).
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Mixing in jeans and a bucket hat is a great way to make a menswear outfit more practical.
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Corduroy is a GOAT fabric that is durable and still has roots in classic menswear.
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Cold? Add layers. Simple and it has more pockets to hold things!
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Worn to hang out with Chris.
Sneakers are just fine with tailoring, especially if you lean into the casual vibes.
Diego Rivera.
Use those pockets!
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Sweatshirts and workpants are practical.
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Tied sweaters are referenced in the podcast.
Super easy going, practical for a regular day, and still quite stylish.
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Propping up a jacket collar helps lean into its vibes as “just another jacket”.
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Tailored jackets can still work with leisure wear.
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Not tailoring, but still classic menswear.
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Chinos and sneakers.
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Note the tucked pen on the lapel! Practical!
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Cotton suits. Practical for a more “casual” law firm (as Michael shows us here, right after work).
Lean into the utility of a coat.
Classic clothing can be comfy too!
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Jeans are practical and add to the vibe.
Pens in shirt pockets!
Photographers in tailoring are perhaps the best case for this essay.
You don’t have to wear ivy to make clothes. But you can want to do it and make it work.
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Ryan is a big proponent of using tailoring practically.
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Chore coats are a utilitarian alternative to a sportcoat.
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Hearty fabrics like oxford and denim will last. They also gain character over time!
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Chore coat with pockets for a phone charger.
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Camo chore coat.
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Spencer’s beloved HBT chore coat. It goes with everything and is practical for everyday use.
Pablo Picasso.
Bill Cunningham.
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A loose fit chore coat over a sportcoat. Makes more sense than a Barbour here in SoCal.
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I like chore coats a lot on their own (though not as much as a sportcoat).
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Chore coats and deck shoes helped me get through Japan comfortably while s till remaining true to my style.
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A chore “suit”.
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Connor, making good use of a utility jacket and cargo pants.
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Some days, I don’t even bring a tote bag. A chore coat will do!
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Work jackets and military chinos are quite utilitarian and still stylish.
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Forced Versatility at work!
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Works fine for a mild hike!
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Variations of classic menswear that are practical, utilitarian, and stylish.
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Leather jackets have their root in utility.
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A classic look that is practical for riding.
Marco makes it work for him because he likes it.
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A few #ownfinds from Berkeley Breathes that shows people making tailoring practical.
Add a practical cap, why not!
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Chambray shirting.
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Terry Cloth shirts are the literal combination of style and utility. Don’t even need to bring towell!
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Sometimes you can just combine what you want to make it work.
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Utility vests are cool too.
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Can’t forget the anorak!
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RRL popover with map pockets.
An anorak made by Tailor Caid.
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And of course, the jungle jacket- our favorite practical and utilitarian garment.
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Throwing on a jungle jacket as an outer layer ensures that you have plenty of pockets for activities.
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Practical can look good.
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Thanks for listening and reading along! Don’t forget to support us on Patreon to get some extra content and access to our exclusive Discord. We also stream on Twitch and upload the highlights to Youtube.

The Podcast is produced by MJ.

Always a pleasure,

Ethan M. Wong

Big thank you to our top tier Patrons (the SaDCast Fanatics): Austin Malott, Philip Gregard, Audrey Jessica, Shane Curry, Jeremy Osztreicher, and Guy Zhang.

4 comments

  1. Pingback: Classic Menswear CAN Be “Practical” « Fashion
  2. RM · May 17

    The director Christopher Nolan is a real exemplar of this, layering, using pockets, sensible footwear. He even asks his crew to dress smart casual because they are at work and should dress like it.

    Like

  3. Pingback: On Dressing Authentically | a little bit of rest
  4. Pingback: Going Out and Wearing Cool Clothes Around People Again | a little bit of rest

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